I visited a very popular and well known womens beauty products website earlier this week because I had a question about one of their products. First I had to wade through the “find your country” thing – well, I told you it was a well known product. They’re an International company and they’re also the parent company of many other popular brand name womens products and from what I can tell all their underling companies are a part of this one website. So then I had to dig for the specific child company this product is made by and finally find the product I was looking for which involved jumping through a bunch of hoops to even find that. It’s a very elegant website but drilling down to where I needed to get to was not a quick process. Click and search, click and search, click and search. I was already irritated by the time I actually found my product.
Once found … was I in for a rude awakening! There was absolutely no contact form on their website! When I located the “contact us” page for my country, company and product, what I found instead of even the most basic contact form was one of those automatic Q&A things. You know what I mean? Ask a question and some web-robot attempts to answer it? I could find absolutely no way to send a message to a live person on the other end and then hold my breath that such a big company would bother to answer anyway. You see, the the answer to my question was not to be found in their database, therefore the robot could not find and display the answer to me. I then searched for a feedback page and when I found that, I also found you had to have a login in order to leave any feedback. I’m drowning in required logins already! I decided I didn’t need yet another login and so I left the site without getting my answer or being able to submit my question or leave any feedback.
No company should be so big for their britches that they can’t even put a common everyday contact form on their website. We the people helped them get to be the big company that they are today … they didn’t get there without a customer following.
Could I have called them? Probably, but by the time I got to this “contact form” (such as it was) and tried a few variations of my question trying to find the answer (which I knew wasn’t going to be there anyway because it was not a generic question) I was so frustrated I’d have snapped the head off of whoever answered the phone. Calling them would have been another drill down session to find the correct phone number. I decided I really didn’t want my question answered badly enough to have to spend another ten minutes hunting down a phone number.
Handling Repetitive Questions Automatically is not Necessarily a Bad Thing
Don’t get me wrong – I totally understand having a web-bot on the website of a very large company. They probably get a lot of the same questions repeatedly and it *is* convenient to be able to find the answer to some basic questions online without having to submit a contact form and wait for a response. I can also understand having some kind of automated phone messaging system set up in order to provide answers to the basics by phone. But when all you offer your customers is automation you take the chance of really irritating the living daylights out of them and losing them as a customer.
Blowing people off by not even giving them so much as a simple to find basic contact form that goes to a human, says to me than this company thinks its to big for its britches to answer questions that aren’t covered in bot-land. Is my opinion the only one that counts? Absolutely not. But I can’t help thinking that if I have these feelings, so might a lot of other people.
Is Your Website to Big for Its Britches?
You can do a simple test to see if your website provides easy access to a human in your company. You can do this yourself, but there’s a chance you may not be objective enough. My suggestion is to ask a few people who you feel would give an objective opinion to go to your website and run through the links and pages to see what it takes to make contact with your company. I would ask three people to do this so that you get feedback from more than one person. What you’re checking for is end user-friendliness.
Ask them to tell you if they felt locating your contact information was easy enough to do or if your website made this to difficult. Did they get frustrated hunting for it? If you have a contact form on your site, ask them to actually submit the form. Was it easy to use? Did it require enough information? To much information?
On your end, treat these inquiries as though they came from strangers. How quickly did you reply? Of course, most people would like to have an immediate reply, but this isn’t always possible nor is it realistic. You aren’t expected to be sitting on your email day in and day out just waiting for someone to contact you. How fast you respond can be directly connected to what people need from you. If you’re a tech support or customer service system I’d say you really need to respond say within four hours or so. After all, someone may have a broken product and already be irritated over that. Waiting past four to six hours can add to that irritation. If you’re an artist selling your paintings I’d say if you replied within 24 hours that would be sufficient. You have to weigh what your customers will be contacting you about to make a reasonable determination. I personally compose at least an initial reply to website contacts within 24 hours if I cannot give people a complete answer right away.
As a final test, sit down and discuss your contact-ability with the people you asked to test. Get their feedback and if they suggest changes, keep an open mind and listen to them. Consider them the voice of your customer base. Then discuss any potential changes with your web designer.
MUST You Give a Contact Phone Number?
My opinion on this is … not necessarily … followed by the caveat that you do need to determine how important a phone number is to your business. I consider developing websites to be more of an online thing and so I don’t give one. You need to not only provide for the needs of your customers, which in my case I feel my several contact forms serve this purpose. But you also have to consider what works for you. Do I ever talk to clients on the phone? You bet! I just don’t leave a phone call option open to every spammer and telemarketer out there. There is no need for that with what I do. I get a lot of spam inquiries from far away places like India who want nothing more than for me to hire them or provide me with services that I myself provide. Your business might very well be one that a phone number would be beneficial to provide or that is even necessary to your business survival. I believe its a decision you should make based on your company’s needs and those of your customers. I’ve been accused of limiting my business because I don’t provide a phone number. I don’t have a lack of business so I don’t feel a need to change my ways because of comments like this.